Lorraine Wilson Dives for Victory

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By Lorraine Wilson, Davis Phinney Foundation Ambassador

My dream of diving blossomed in sixth grade, when I learned enough about oceanography that it began to draw me away from my ambition to become an architect. Living near the ocean certainly helped, as did the television series The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.

While watching the divers on our small television in our apartment living room, I began to wonder if I could be a future explorer or marine scientist. Unfortunately, this dream began to dim during my teenage years. I began to doubt that I could go to college, let alone become a diver or an oceanographer.

Fortunately, future me was much more confident in being able to realize these dreams than teenage me was. I did attend college and eventually became a diver! Soon after earning my instructor status, I became a dive shop owner alongside my husband. I even met Jacques Cousteau and some of his family multiple times through the years at international scuba tradeshows and events.

I was living my dream! I taught college courses in kinesiology with the added joy of teaching scuba certification classes. (I’ve been a scuba instructor for 33 of my 36 years as a certified diver.) Many of the scuba students joined us on trips to the Caribbean during spring break. Through education, travel, and business connections with people in many facets of the scuba industry, I was offered wonderful opportunities which included diving on archaeological sites, directing and participating in underwater cleanups, and learning the skills necessary to become a passionate underwater photographer.

I maintained a high-energy approach to life. I jogged, swam, biked, and competed in numerous races. My fitness level allowed me to dive easily, but at one point I suspected something was “off.” I visited my doctor after some strange recurring symptoms were affecting the left side of my body. I told him I was often off-balance, had a few fingers moving for no good reason, and regularly fought days of stiffness. It was hard to hear the words, “You have Parkinson’s.”

As I’ve said, diving had always been a big dream of mine.  I’d made the dream come true. But when I received my Parkinson’s diagnosis, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “How many more dives are in my future?”

And so, I looked at the facts.
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The first was that modern scuba diving equipment helps divers of all abilities have the tools to participate. Second, good diving guidelines call for each diver to be part of a buddy team, so I knew that I would never be diving alone. Third, I knew that in order to dive safely, I needed to take a diving medical form to my physician for clearance, and thankfully he cleared me to dive.

Diving while living with Parkinson’s, of course, came with some new challenges.secret white text

When I took my first scuba trip post-diagnosis, I had been taking a new medication, and I found myself spasmodically tilted to the left while underwater, despite my efforts to move forward. Furthermore, the bradykinesia affecting my left side made my left kick almost worthless in the water. However, I quickly devised a “work-around.” I paid attention to my position relative to the current so my strong right kick could move me in the desired direction. I also learned to “waggle” my right fin between strong kicks to maintain my position. My left fin? It was best used as a rudder or not at all!

The hardest thing during that dive trip was actually getting up the ladder to the boat because my left side had weakened more than I’d realized. And so, on my return home, I began a dedicated resistance training regimen to address the problem. Not only did this make ascending the ladder on future trips easier, but it turned out to be good for life in general.
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I have been grateful to have been able to continue my scuba adventures as a person living with Parkinson’s. I marvel every time I plunge victoriously into the ocean, dive comfortably around coral reef neighborhoods with their fascinating inhabitants, and surface to the boat with tales to tell.

I will continue to dive until I know that I should not. Until then, I count each dive as a victory, and Every Victory Counts®!

Lorraine Wilson is a Davis Phinney Foundation Ambassador. As an active member of the Foundation, Lorraine has shared her vast knowledge and experience by contributing to many resources on the Davis Phinney Foundation website, including: Lorraine Finds Joy in Living Well Today,” “Optimism, Efficacy, Strong Relationships, and FISH!,” “Art and Parkinson’s: Sketchbook 101,” “Get It Done (For Parkinson’s) 101,” and “Grab a Sketchbook and Live Well with Parkinson’s.”
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